Exhale [on Two Artists Tuesday]

When I was younger I had a dream. I was walking through an aspen forest in autumn. I was not trying to get anywhere. I was not lost nor did I need to know where I was – other than wandering through the forest. The dream was visceral. Real to me. And, I’ve never felt more peaceful or present or quiet.

Because of my dream I equate aspen forests with peace. If I am off balance and need to regain center, I think of aspen forests.

The leaves make a specific sound. It is completely accurate to say they “quake.” Quaking also describes how they move when the breeze catches the leaves on the branches. If the light is right, they shimmer as well as quake. They can be electric in yellow, pale green and orange. Their quaking and shimmering serves as a mind-cleanser. And, not just for me. I dare anyone with a troubled mind to hold onto their troubles when in the presence of an autumn aspen grove.

Before leaving Colorado, we drove into the mountains. People were flocking to see the leaves. We found our destination off the beaten path: the lake, surrounded by stands of brilliant quaking aspen. We thought we’d spend a few minutes there but hours passed before we realized it. That’s the thing about peace, it does not dance with time. We walked. We took pictures. We sat in the resounding, shimmering quiet. And, for the first time in days, we exhaled.

read Kerri’s blog post about ASPEN FORESTS

Honor Yourself [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“There’s a trailhead,” Loida said, “It’s just up the road.” She could see that we needed some quiet time. Some space. Some nature. We dropped our other plans. All errands went out the window. More importantly, all obligations, made-up and otherwise, fell to the wayside. Or, said another way, we honored ourselves, our needs. We ran to the hills like thirsty people running for an oasis.

“Why is that so hard?” Kerri asked. “Why should I feel guilty for taking a few moments for myself?” Later, deep in the night, we’d express intense – not an overstatement – gratitude for having given ourselves a short hike into the foothills. The sun. The deer. The hawk. The cyclist who cried, “Snake!” There were signs warning of rattlesnakes so we walked with caution. We laughed at our imagined-snake-paranoia.

Those few moments allowed us to be present with family when we needed to be present with family. Our short hike refilled our people-gas-tank. Kerri’s question was spot-on. Why is it so hard to do the thing you most need to do? Why is it so hard to put your needs above the demands of others – especially when attending to your needs is the single action that ultimately enables you to attend to the needs of others. To be present with and for others.

We are both introverts. Quiet, not cacophony, recharges the battery.

Kerri gasped, “Look at this!” she knelt and carefully took a photograph of the autumn blossom beside the trail. “This is exactly what I needed,” she sighed. Face to the sun. Awash with an awe-some blossom discovery, we took a moment, a necessary moment, to drink in the beauty and the sage mountain air.

read Kerri’s blog post about AUTUMN BLOSSOM

Stand In The Narrow Place [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Western civilization has been a 2,000 year long exercise in robbing people of the present. People are now learning the joys that hide in the narrow place of the hour glass, the eternal moment.” ~ George Leonard, Mastery

The observation has become something of a yearly ritual. Every 9/11, I hear or participate in this conversation: one day, people got out of bed, drank their coffee, brushed their teeth and went to work or boarded an airplane. And then, they never came home.

We are fairly smothered in sentiments about appreciating life, seizing-the-day, living in the present moment, take nothing for granted… “You never know.”

Quinn gave me his copy of Mastery. As was his practice, he underlined significant passages in red pen – and the book was a festival of underlined passages. For years I kept the book on my desk or beside my bed. I’d flip it open and read the red sections. They served as a daily meditation. They gave my busy mind something generative and hopeful to occupy.

George Leonard called presence, “the plateau.” Eckhart Tolle calls it “the now.” In one of the gospels NOT included in the bible, Jesus is reported to have said, “The kingdom of heaven is on earth but men do not see it.” The Way of the Buddha leads to the present moment.

What do we see if we stop thinking long enough to experience the present moment?

2996 people died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. These people could do nothing about what happened to them on that day. They brushed their teeth. They left for work or got on an airplane.

“You never know.”

This year, there was a new river-of-thought that ran through the annual ritual observation: the daily COVID death toll last week in these un-united states was above 1,000 a day. On January 7th, 2021, 4,147 people died of COVID. In the divided-united states, more than 660,000 people have died of COVID. World-wide 4,550,000 people have perished.

It’s impossible not to look at the numbers and wonder why-and-how we became our own terrorists.

In the past year, with the availability of a vaccine, with the proven effectiveness of masking and social distancing, these people, had they united with the help of their friends and neighbors, had choices. They – we – could have done everything to save their lives. We did not. We divided. 1000 yesterday. 1000 today. 1000 tomorrow. And growing.

Sometimes we know.

Appreciating life is – and always will be, at the narrow place of the hour glass – a community affair. In presence, on the plateau, the line between me and you blurs. It is the reason why all of those firefighters and first-responders ran into the towers that day. My life cannot be precious if I cannot see that yours is also precious. Why – on earth – on any given day – would I not do everything possible – anything possible – to protect your life? Why would you not do the same for me?

read Kerri’s blog post about BLESSINGS ABOVE GROUND

Look. Really Look. [on KS Friday]

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).” ~ e.e. cummings

The ritual became real when Kerri asked the bride and groom to turn and look at the community of people assembled as witnesses to their wedding, “No, really look,” she said. Eyes met eyes. Family. Friends. The unspoken but oh-so-apparent moment: We’re here for you.

Rituals, like a good story, are about single moments. Everything builds to the moment. In the ceremony, Kerri told the couple that they would have days that they could not take their eyes off of each other and that they would have days that were…not so much, but in all of their days, through all of their challenges and celebrations, they would have this moment, and this single-moment, when all else dropped away, would carry them through everything: standing before their community of support, they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “I do.” I carry your heart.

Initially, when they asked her to perform their wedding, she was stunned. “Why me?” she asked. After their ceremony, unique in all the world, simple and profound, I wanted to ask but did not, “Now do you know why they asked you?” My wife understands the power of a moment, the deep river of a ritual, and the long ripples that simple words and intentional actions can send through the long-body of a lifetime.

“Are you ready?” she whispered to the couple when the music faded. “Yes. Oh, yes,” they replied.

read Kerri’s blog post about I CARRY YOUR HEART

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes and streaming on Pandora

Unfold [on KS Friday]

September. The air was cool last night. We put on longer sleeves, sat on the deck and listened to the sounds of the summer night. Cicadas. The waves crashing into the shore. The bubbling of the fountain. Distant voices of others enjoying the evening. Dogga sighed and stretched, closing his eyes.

Stephen’s memorial, a gathering of friends and relations. At the same moment, across the country, a baby was born, a new little brother. On the same day, Kim completed another circle around the sun. I missed wishing her happy birthday. Celebrations of life wearing its many faces.

The chipmunks have discovered Kerri’s tomatoes. They are considerate thieves and take only one tomato at a time. Lately, a salmon-colored cardinal sits on the cage and pecks the leaves of the plants. The basil did well until the relentless heat and humidity, the torrential rains. It is ready to retire, old before its time. The crows swarm the hawk. The squirrels have shifted into overdrive, preparations for the coming season.

We stopped on our walk. Kerri approached the tree and snapped a photo of a bright crimson leaf, harbinger of fall. “So much has happened this summer,” she said. “I can’t believe it is already September.”

Textures. Colors. Sounds. Passages. Paying attention. It has us asking that age-old question, “What really matters?’

David sent a photograph. Dawson squeezed a whole tube of blue paint onto a canvas and, with a new cool art-tool, spread the rich thick paint, carving it into creation. An artist dad in play with his artist son.

That age-old question is so easy to answer, wearing longer sleeves, sitting on the deck on a cool summer evening. You can see it from “the plateau,” as George Leonard used to call it. Be in your moment, and you will see that the little things are really the big things. On the plateau, everything unfolds simply and with clarity. Friends gather. A baby is born. Blue paint squeezed onto a canvas.

UNFOLDING on kerri’s album AS IT IS

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post on TEXTURES

unfolding/as it is ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood

Walk As WaWo [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It was past 3am when Kerri asked me if I wanted to “watch a trail.” We were wide awake. The air was hot and still. We’d recently stumbled upon The Wander Women: Kristy, Annette, and Lynn, woman our age, walking the PCT. They’re doing a flip flop, having started their hike in the middle of the 2600 mile trail and walking to Canada, then, they’ll return to the center point and walk the distance to Mexico. We watched the installment, posted this week, as they reached the Canadian border.

Still wide awake, we went to their channel and listened as they answered questions about their hike of the Appalachian Trail. They are sirens of the possible, guides of give-it-a-try. They are not hikers who pound out miles to reach a goal. As Kristy said, “We want to enjoy every single moment.” Their yoga is a matter-of-fact-presence. They plan and improvise; both/and.

We’ve listened to more than one Q&A with the Wander Women. In an answer to their follower’s questions about living full time in an RV and life on the trail, Annette responded, “Home is where we put up our tent. You carry home inside yourself.” It was the answer of someone who’d transcended their stuff. It was the response of someone who’d internalized her security.

We couldn’t plug our windows with air conditioners this summer. We had too much of isolation last year. We needed to hear the birdsong and feel the summer air. We knew that would bring uncomfortable days, humid and hot nights. We have always walked our neighborhood and the local trails, but our decision to feel-the-summer pulled us more out-of-doors than usual. We extended the sanctuary of our sunroom out onto the deck. We placed torches along the patio and fixed the lights around the pond.

Each evening, after our work is done, we sit outside in our ever-expanding sanctuary. We listen to the cicadas. The cardinals and the chipmunks vie for a place at the bird feeder. Sitting at our table I had a mini-revelation about why I was so enjoying The Wander Women and following the few couples also out on the trail and posting weekly updates. They talk about the community of support that they find in the trail. It is often unexpected and yet ubiquitous. Both/and. They offer a staunch counter narrative to the horror we hear in the news, the contention and division. There are people dedicated to helping them and they, in turn, are dedicated to helping others. “You can do this!” they say to anyone listening. “We’ll help you do this,” their followers echo back to them. They broadcast friendship, kindness and support.

It is a breath of fresh air, a sparkling optimism for the best in humanity. It rises on the trail. Generosity that cultivates generosity. Hope that is grounded in the experience of the unprotected, the heat and cold and bugs and rain and challenge of being-what-they-are-doing. Shared experience. Sanctuary. Here. Everywhere.

read Kerri’s blog post about SANCTUARY

Refresh [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s been true since we met. People stop us in airports and on the street, they give us thumbs up or take a faux paparazzi-photograph. They tell us that we are cute or “lookin’ good!” Once, a shopkeeper came out of his store to tell us that we made him smile. When we walk the neighborhood, we are often met with people who tell us that we make their day. It always takes us by surprise and it always makes us smile.

What are people seeing? We are older and link arms when we walk. We hold hands. Our clothes are unintentionally the same. Black on blue jeans. We walk slowly. We talk to each other. We stroll; a walk without a destination. We don’t know what inspires the comments but always appreciate them.

Kerri always coos when she sees a horse. In our imaginary life, she has horses, a donkey, and an old truck. We were walking on the trail in our flip flops (that always gets a raised eyebrow or two) when the cowboy came around the bend. “A horse!” Kerri whispered, and squeezed my arm. The cowboy sat up in his saddle, nodded as he rode passed, then said, “You look like you like each other.”

“We do.” I replied.

Perhaps it is that simple. We like each other.

We’re fortunate. Our work allows us to be together all day. Every day. That would, I’m sure, be the end of most relationships. We like it. When I need feedback on a painting, she is my best wise-eyes. “What do you see?” I ask. We read our posts to each other before we publish. We edit together. We cook together. We create together. Our list of joint projects is growing. Lately, our once-weekly-cartoon about…well…us, Smack-dab., is giving us tremendous energy. It is fun. We poke fun at ourselves. We capture the ridiculous and the poignant. We pay attention to the marvels of simple relationship.

Picasso said that, “Love is the greatest refreshment in life.” He also said that, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” Those thoughts, placed side-by-side, I believe, holds the reason a cowboy sat up in his saddle and a shopkeeper ran into the street. We are refreshed. We practice the elimination of the unnecessary – on canvas, at the piano, and in life.

We didn’t try to make 24/7 togetherness. There was no rule or expectation. It’s what we wanted. It’s what we want.

I am on jury duty this week and was at the courthouse most of the day. When she came to fetch me I got in the car and we said at the same time, “That was weird!”

“Tell me everything!” she said.

“No. You first! What did you and Dogga do?” Our conversation took us deep into the night. There’s so much life and so little time. Perhaps that’s it. We know this day is precious and fleeting and act accordingly. It must show.

read Kerri’s blog post about YOU MUST LIKE EACH OTHER

Smile With Pete [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It is a hot and humid morning as we sit to write. The sky is dark and rumbling. A storm is moving in. Dogga doesn’t like the thunder. He stays close. He studies our responses. Kerri jumped up to close the windows against the rain.

News of Pete’s passing came yesterday. And, although I have not seen him in a few years, it sucked the air from my lungs. His path through life was not easy. He was the first truly free spirit I met in my youth. I’d met lots of pretenders, cape-wearing artists that fancied themselves to be free. Angry activists. Pete was different. His protest against the Vietnam war meant that he simply refused to fight. Peace made him a criminal so he went where he could live as he believed, a hippie, living off the land and off the grid. He understood that his actions mattered. He understood that his choices impacted everyone so he was dedicated to making sustainable, non-violent life-choices. Pete was way ahead of his time.

He was a beekeeper and, occasionally, when he needed help, I rode in his old truck and helped him lift the heavy hives, moving them to the next field. He collected the honey for sale and made beeswax candles. If a puritan work ethic smashed into a Buddhist mindset, Pete was the result. He worked hard. He relaxed hard.

He believed in the illumination of human consciousness. He meditated and practiced presence. We talked endlessly about the nature of…nature and what it was to be of the earth and not on the earth.

One night, after a long drive and a long day of moving hives to a farmer’s field, too late to drive home over the passes, the farmer gave him permission to camp overnight. Pete rolled out his sleeping bag and fell asleep under the stars. Two county ditch riders, seeing a hippie in a farmer’s field, decided it would be great fun to run their truck over the hippie. Pete’s hair got caught in the bumper. He was drug behind the truck for a long, long way before his hair finally released from his head.

No one can explain how he survived. His body was broken, his brain was damaged, but his spirit was unharmed. I’ve never seen another human being go through so much, lose so much, and come out smiling. In my middle age, years after the “accident,” sitting with Pete at family picnics, I’d ask him how he was doing. “Greeeeaaaaat!” he’d say, smiling his famous smile, closing his eyes again, turning his face to feel the sun.

No one I’ve ever known had more reason to be bitter yet had less capacity for self-pity. A peace-lover who became a survivor of horrific violence, an independent spirit who became impossibly dependent, a man of nature who was rendered incapable of doing any more than looking at the mountains and the fields, and his response was to smile.

Pete was rendered present. He embraced a simple gratitude for every day of life. He was capable of being no where else and inhabited his limitation with appreciation.

Even in his wreckage he managed to live fully his convictions. Isn’t that the mark of a great person?

read Kerri’s blog post about GRASSES

Pull The Weed [on KS Friday]

One of my favorite simple pleasures each day is watching Kerri go out in the early morning and tend to her tomatoes. The world is quiet. The coffee is brewing. Dogga makes sure the yard is clear of marauding squirrels so the path to tomatoes is safe. An extraordinary ordinary moment. A tender ritual. A wonderful world.

Put down your clever and pick up your ordinary. It is one of my favorite “rules” of improvisational theatre. It is also a good credo to live by. Trying to be clever will take you out of the game every time. It is as true in all aspects of life as it is in art. The beautiful little secret: power, presence, flow…these live in the province of the ordinary.

When I was learning to scuba dive,Terry tried to teach me one central concept: get neutral. After several dives, fighting for control, trying “to do it right,” burning through my oxygen with my dedicated stress, I simply relaxed. I found the neutral that he advised. It was as if I joined the current. The colors sharpened. Time seemed to slow. My breathing definitely slowed. What was a struggle only a few moments before was suddenly easy. I’d picked up my ordinary. I got out of my way.

I delight watching children draw. They are free in their ordinary, not a shred of clever to be found. They lose that. We lose that, trying to be…something other than what we are. How many of us shudder in the notion that we are inauthentic? How many of us invest in the notion of low “self-esteem?” The circle of ordinary comes back around though it is cloaked in words like “self love” or “acceptance” or “wholeness.” Get neutral. Put down your clever.

Ordinary, not clever. It is a discovery that ought to stick early in life but generally lands much later. There’s very little distance between the child that freely colors and the adult that one day remembers that nothing is broken, nothing needs fixing. It is ordinary to color with abandon. The riches are in tending the tomatoes. “Clever” is merely a weed that needs pulling. In the ordinary, a wonderful world is waiting.

PULLING WEEDS on Kerri’s album RIGHT NOW is available on ITunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post on TOMATOES

pulling weeds/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Sit On The Curb [on DR Thursday]

As much as our wily-ole brains would like us to believe otherwise, we can be nowhere else but in the present. Everything else is imagination.

Years ago I belonged to a support group of independent consultants. We met once a month to discuss our business challenges, insights, and to give and receive some advice. One of the members of the group was a Byron Cady coach. I have no memory of the discussion that prompted her to offer this Byron-thought-metaphor: “If your house burns down, rather than race around in panic, the best thing you can do is sit on the curb and appreciate the moment.”

To the consumer-mind, wisdom often sounds like bad advice. That you are alive, that you have this moment, means that no real possession was lost. The question is, in the face of calamity, what will you make of the moment?

Brother Joseph told the story of holding a woman wearing expensive furs, each finger was diamond encrusted, as she died on the street. He was, in the moment, overwhelmed by the worthlessness of her stuff. The illusion of value once life has gone.

Life. This moment. Calamity is certain to come. Sit on the curb and see what is there, beyond what you think is there.

We’ve had our share of adversity these past few years. I would like to report that we laughed heartily in the face of lost jobs and broken wrists and pandemic madness and civil unrest. We did not. We shook our fists at the sky. We made up words and ran loops like Chicken Little. We invested in all manner of fear-of-the-future and ran from monsters-of-the-past. None of our racing around or fist-shaking brought comfort or change.

But, the moments that we took a breath, walked a trail or sat on the back deck and listened to the cardinals and crows, sipped hot coffee on cold mornings, held hands – sat on the curb and appreciated the undeniable truth of our moment: we have everything. We have this moment – the only moment of life that we’ll ever inhabit. We have each other. The rest, the fear of future, demons of the past, are pure imagination. In those moments, wrapped in a circumstance of calamity, we laughed at the beauty of it all.

read Kerri’s blog post about LAUGH IN THE FACE OF CALAMITY